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Debate entre Nicholas Carr y Robert Metcalfe


CARR: Bob's VC investments must be doing very poorly, because he obviously has a lot of anger. I'm glad to give him the opportunity to vent here. His dramatic misreading of my article ["IT Doesn't Matter," published by the Harvard Business Review. (see related stories)] was quite impressive, and I can thus put him at the head of the pack of thefailed debunkers that he listed at the start of his presentation.
I think the interesting thing, when you think back over everything that Bob has just said, is that he never really addressed the point of whether IT - information technology - can give a company a defensible advantage. Whether, in fact, we're at the stage of the development of the IT infrastructure that most if not virtually all ITinnovations will be rapidly replicated by competitors - which is, after all, my point.
He raised an issue that others have raised, which is, "Oh, well, IT never mattered, then." But I think that's not true, and I think by saying that, you kind of deliberately skew the debate. Because in fact if you look back at the history of IT, you see that information technology - the systems themselves - inthe early stages of the development of IT, actually provided extremely strong competitive advantages.
You had, for instance, American Airlines with its Saber system, which kept the competition at bay for many years. And even when the competition was able to leapfrog American's system, as United did, American had had that advantage for so long, and had leveraged that advantage so strongly, thatUnited's system was unable to dislodge it. And why did it have that advantage? Because it was hard to do. It took American Airlines 10 years to develop that system, and loads of money. At that point in the development of the IT infrastructure, it just took a long time for competitors to come behind and replicate the system. Today, because of all the advances of IT - because for many users in fact thecapabilities are out beyond their needs -- that replication cycle goes much, much faster.
Another example is that when we had closed networks, you could set up a closed network with your suppliers on one end and your customers on the other, and you could lock out your competitors. And we saw companies like American Hospital Supply do that. It was the first of the medical suppliers to go out andput its ordering terminals in hospital buying offices. Essentially, because the buyers didn't want to go out and get terminals from other suppliers, it locked out all the competitors. Similarly Reuters did that with Reuters Monitor - set up a private network to send financial information out to financial traders, and locked out competitors.
But what's happened there as well? When we moved to opennetworks and the Internet in particular, not only did closed networks no longer have advantages, but they turned into disadvantages. And so through this process - and Bob may contend that history doesn't matter, and that's fine, but I actually think it does - through this process which we've seen over and over again in business, we see the advantage potential of the technology become neutralizedas it spreads, as it advances, as it becomes standardized, as it becomes homogenized - and this is the point where Bob and many of those who have tried to rebut the article gloss over. They default back to, "Oh, Ethernet, we're going beyond 1 gigabit." Fine. But that's available to everyone - that's the point. So yes, I'm not arguing that IT is unimportant, I'm not arguing that innovation is over;in fact I think we'll see continued very strong innovation. But the point is it's innovation in the infrastructure. It's shared by all companies; it provides competitive advantage to none. If you go with Bob's advice, I think what you'll end up doing is simply wasting a lot of your company's money.

METCALFE: In that context then, what would be a list of the things that are a source of...
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